The City of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral said they will take legal action to remove the tents of demonstrators camped outside the 17th-century landmark protesting against economic inequality.
The municipal authority for London’s financial district voted to seek a court order to evict the camp, the City of London Corp. said in a statement today. Cathedral authorities said separately they too will take legal action.
“Protest is an essential right in a democracy, but camping on the highway is not,” Michael Welbank, a City council member, said in the statement. “We will have a strong highways case because an encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others.”
Inspired by anti-Wall Street protests in New York and other major cities, demonstrators set up about 200 tents outside the church almost two weeks ago. Having initially allowing the protesters to remain, cathedral authorities last week asked them to move after they were forced to shut the church to visitors. The cathedral needs about 16,000 pounds ($26,000) of donations a day to meet running costs, according to Graeme Knowles, the Dean of St. Paul’s.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he also wants a “solution” to the protest in time for the Armistice Day commemorations on Nov. 11.
“It’s very concerning that it’s not open,” Cameron told reporters in Perth, Australia, today. “I’m all in favor of the freedom to demonstrate, but I can’t quite see why the freedom to demonstrate should mean the freedom to pitch a tent anywhere you like in London.”
Church authorities closed the cathedral on Oct. 21 for the first time since World War II, saying the number and arrangement of protesters’ tents caused a fire hazard. St. Paul’s today reopened to worshipers after protesters moved their tents.
“We are disappointed and very sad to see that St. Paul’s has decided to take this route,” Spyro Van Leemnen, a 27-year-old public-relations worker and one of the organizers of the protest. “It was Jesus himself who kicked out the moneylenders from the temple, and now we see St. Paul’s collaborating with the Corporation of London to evict people from the churchyard.”
The protesters set up a prayer and meditation tent and portable toilets during the week as they campaigned against banks that have offices in London’s financial district. Both Bank of America Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have offices close to the site of the protest.